With President Pranab Mukherjee’s term ending in July, the Indian presidential elections have been set for July 17. With this, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress-led Opposition have intensified their search for a suitable candidate as the last date for filing nominations, June 28, fast approaches. The election will take place only if both camps can't come up with a consensus candidate. So far, both the ruling National Democratic Alliance and Opposition parties have failed to come up with the names of their candidates.
The Indian Express reported that BJP leader Amit Shah constituted a three-member panel which includes Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu. This was set up to consult political parties including the opposition.
On Wednesday, the opposition parties met to try to arrive at a consensus on a candidate. The leaders including Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge from the Congress, Janata Dal-United's Sharad Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal's Lalu Prasad, Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury and Nationalist Congress Party's Praful Patel, Derek O'Brien of the Trinamool Congress, RS Bharathi of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Ram Gopal Yadav of the Samajwdi Party and Satish Chandra Misra from the Bahujan Samaj Party were present for the meeting.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had endorsed President Pranab Mukherjee for another term but the Congress has been non-committal on the issue. Many Opposition parties including the Congress are keen that NCP chief Sharad Pawar contest for the President’s post, but he has shown no interest. reported The New Indian Express.
Some of the other names that have been floating around include familiar faces and some new ones as well.
The Shiv Sena which has been pushing for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat as the next President, said a 'Hindutva rubber stamp' should be installed at Rashtrapati Bhavan. An editorial in the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana stated –
“So far, rubber stamps with secular credentials resided at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Now, to resolve the issues of Ram Mandir, Uniform Civil Code and Article 370 of the Constitution, it is required that a Hindutva rubber stamp assumes the post of president.”
The editorial stated that the honor of the presidency was maintained by the current holder of the office –
“Though Pranab Mukherjee hails from the Congress lineage, he has been an able and a strong president. His wide experience in various fields has proved immensely beneficial for the country.”
BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha endorsed party veteran L K Advani saying, “I sincerely hope, wish and pray that good sense prevails on one and all and the Pitamah of BJP is bestowed upon with the honor. He is clearly the most suitable, learned, respectable, experienced, desirable and deserving candidate for the most prestigious post.”
The statement comes at a time when a case of criminal conspiracy in the Babri demolition is being heard in court against Advani.
As the D-day for the Presidential election draws close, I strongly echo the views of Advani ji's admirers and well wishers...9>10— Shatrughan Sinha (@ShatruganSinha) June 13, 2017
He is clearly the most suitable, learned, respectable, experienced, desirable and deserving candidate for the most prestigious post...10>11— Shatrughan Sinha (@ShatruganSinha) June 13, 2017
Gopalkrishna Gandhi, former diplomat, retired IAS Officer and former West Bengal governor, could be the potential opposition candidate. Being one of the grandsons of Mahatma Gandhi, he is being pushed by the Left parties as reported in the Hindustan Times. Firspost quotes sources in the Left parties saying “We are thinking of proposing the name of Gopalkrishna Gandhi. He does not have an affiliation to any political party.”
'Metro man' E Sreedharan could be a potential NDA candidate. He is known for leading the successful Delhi Metro project. Recently, there was some uproar when Sreedharan’s name was excluded from the list of VVIPs to be present on the dais along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to inaugurate the Kochi Metro, however his name was later added. In the wake of this, India Today quotes sources from the Prime Minister’s Office as saying –
“In fact, there is a strong probability of Sreedharan being nominated as the ruling BJP-led NDA's candidate for the president's post in the July 17 election. It would be improper if he is seen sitting with PM Modi and Union Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu on the dais just days before the name of the NDA candidate is announced. Moreover, PM Modi maintains distance with the person he has to push up.”
Sushma Swaraj, the current External Affairs Minister, has also emerged as a potential pick. She is a very popular figure for her pro-activeness in protecting Indian citizens’ interests across the world. She is also one of the senior most leaders within the BJP and was also previously leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
Another person emerging from the BJP camp is the current Union Minister of Social Justice, Thawar Chand Gehlot, who is a Dalit leader from Madhya Pradesh. He has the support of the RSS and according to Firstpost, he may be the Vice Presidential candidate since the BJP wants to install a tribal-dalit duo as the President and Vice President.
Another name doing the rounds is Draupadi Murmu, who is the present Governor of Jharkhand. If elected she will be the first tribal woman to become the President of India. She is a two time BJP legislator from Odisha and her candidature is being viewed as an effort to win the tribal vote share across states by BJP for the upcoming General Elections 2019.
According to a report in Firstpost, Kariya Munda has emerged as a prospective candidate. Munda, 80, is a tribal leader from Jharkhand and has decades old ties with the RSS.
Other names that have been mentioned are; Meira Kumar the former Lok Sabha speaker and Congress leader from Bihar as the candidate from the opposition camp, Sharad Yadav’s name has come up and a senior Left leader said, “If Sharad Yadav's name comes up, we will have no objection. He is a senior opposition leader...a man of integrity and honesty."
On the political side, on Friday, The Hindustan Times reported that the NDA has initiated formal negotiations on the presidential election with the Congress, but is yet to reveal the name of its nominee for the position. Union ministers Venkaiah Naidu and Rajnath Singh spoke to Congress president Sonia Gandhi at her residence.
After the meeting, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad told the media, “The BJP ministers did not give us any name, instead asked us for a name. We were expecting them to suggest a name. Then we would have discussed that within our own party and with other opposition parties.”
In an op-ed for The New Indian Express, Dr Rakesh Sinha writes the person who becomes president should take up the task of decolonizing the Indian mind –
“No one knows who the next President will be, but the likelihood of a contest based on entrenched positions certainly undermines the prestige of Rashtrapati Bhavan. The opposition parties and their intellectuals have lost their gravity and are now defined more by what they oppose than what they support. Prime Minister Modi has combined the spirit of cultural legacies in his speeches, which are an assertion of a genuine idea of India, in the midst of ceaseless opposition from secularist forces.”